the rivers of it, abridged

New York City skyline at night




Cleopatra Mathis

Ants Want My Dead Yellow Moth

The one that came to me out of the sea, perfect
serrated edges of its six wings,
each seamless with tiny yellow feathers,
the two bright center ones with black eyes
to do the work of camouflage. Even drowned,
the wings held tight, a simple knot at the top
attaching them to the black worm of the body.
What fragile stitchery the tide held up,
carrying it in on a wave. I took it to my desk,
arranged it so as to see the colors as they dried,
the veins rising, shuddering with my breath.

But now, this ant — so little I worry
about the number that could cover the small body —
by some trickery has found its way
under my immaculate shack and climbed the pilings,
through gaps in the floorboards to one leg
of my writing table, and up that to the surface
plain of three cracked boards, where it scurried
to the moth: my creature.
Pulled from the sea with my own hands — mine, I think,
because I hope my very will can preserve it.



Everything I saw
became a matter of holding on —
even at breakfast on the shack's simple stair
I longed for the buffer of image.
So here are a few crossed lines
threaded by the sun, lit so lightly
as to be ignored. Faint white specks
hold it down. No sign of the spider —
no busy legs dragging a gossamer dress —
in whom lately I have great interest.
Where has she gone,
and for what purpose?
See: even I no longer trust her.



Of what he said, and what stuck
that night she wore her finest silk,
predator found its likely place and laid down

its thin figure. It let out its spinneret
and then began to build
the sheer and floating crossed-over threads,

looking so much like a guise, a ruse.
He was standing near the door, backing away,
the word clinging to him. He froze.

He knew in the morning that web
might shine in the sun, maybe transformed
but more likely oppressing, exploiting:

for this was the underside of her wanting.
And she was tireless — turning from everything
to rebuild what had been torn

with her strength, tensile and forgiving
of whatever weight. So predator, too,
has been woven fast. He cannot shake it off

even if he wanted to enter that sticky interior,
the room built with her body.
For them, she says, luring

every good thing, but he sees himself
trapped in a corner; he sees her
on the other side, scuttling.



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